German students visit: 26 March – 4 April 2017


Drei Tage Wach


Zulu Trail

By Sandile Masondo

On 26th March 2017, a group of German and Swiss students visited KwaZulu-Natal to be part of the Zulu Trail experience. This was another successful trail that marks the 6th trail since the revival of the Zulu Trail in early 2014.

The students arrived at King Shaka International Airport on Sunday, 26 March at 08h55. The group consisted of 6 students – four girls and two boys. The names of the girls were:  Elena Behrendt and her Zulu name is (Nomalanga), Tanja Zimmermann (Nonjabulo), Charlotte Lampe (Nonkululeko), Laura Delimar (Nomusa). The names of the boys were: Luisa Jenglinski his Zulu name is (Musawenkosi), Yoram Eggers (Velaphi). The oldest student was 18 and the youngest was 14 years old.

On their arrival (Sibamukelile) we gave them a warm Zulu welcome.  We used a 9-seater Toyota Condo as our transport. We left the airport at 09h15 then drove on the N2 route via Stanger (KwaDukuza) our journey took us 3 hours and 45 minutes. We had our proper briefing at MrNkomo’s homestead where we explained the objectives and the goals of the trail. We gave them the history of the Zulu Trail (ZT) starting back in 1985 by the founder, Hannes Zoellner.

Sipho and I introduced ourselves by sharing the meanings of our names. When Philisiwe joined us later she also shared her name. All the students gave us their names but they could not give us the meanings. One of the students asked why it is important to have the meaning of the name. Our answer to that question was: “In Zulu culture everything needs to have a meaning and that helps to understands things better. Most Zulu families will have a specific hope and a specific dream for the child they are giving birth to. Some families tell their stories using the names of their born child. To us these names serve as a path finder to our families’ visions. After this discussion the students expressed the wish that they would like to have the meanings of their names. Then we asked each student to tell us about him/herself and give us their objective and goals in life. When that process was finished, we then gave them their Zulu names that summarized everything they had shared. This is how this group came to have Zulu names. We will like to add this exercise to our programme because the students liked it very much. One of the girls said she wishes that she could keep her Zulu name and use it on her Identity Document!

After the name exercise, we talked about the water shortage in the area and the negative impact that it has brought to the lives of Msinga people. We touch deeply on global warming and the consequences we are facing at this present moment. We made them aware that getting clean water is not easy and we need to conserve it at all times. Sipho showed them by demonstrating how to use a basin to wash oneself. In rural Zululand, people do not have baths or showers.

During February this year there were big storms in Msinga that resulted in a bridge being washed away that we would have used to cross the umuziNyathi river to Ngubevu. The rivers were still quite full and flowing fast and it would not have been safe to attempt to cross them. Lots of houses in the area were swept away as well. Mr Nkomo’s two rondavels were also affected by the storms: one fell down and was completely destroyed and the other lost its roof. I was very shocked when I first saw this, because these are the rondovels that we use whenever we are at Msinga. I felt that we needed to do something to give back to Mr Nkomo’s family, so I spoke to Hannes about this situation. We agreed that the next group of ZT students would help repair the rondavel.

Not only did the big storms result in providing a building project for the students but the rains affected the whole character of the ZT as well. By March, the trails we usually use were heavily overgrown. When I attempted a reconnoitre, I found the bush was very thick and there were bushes and trees with thorns all over the place. Mr Nkomo and I made several attempts to clear the path but we failed. Consequently, this group did not have the same opportunity to walk along the Zulu trails we usually use or to cross the river. This group had a different experience to other groups that have previously visited Zululand on a ZT. They spent less time walking and more time working to complete the roof.

By the time the ZT group arrived at Mr Nkomo’s homestead, he had rebuilt the walls and the roof structure was in place. We explained to the students that in the morning we would be involved in building a new roof for Mr. Nkomo’s rondavel.

On the 27th we woke up early at 6h30.We had tea and coffee and then the girls, Philisiwe and I started removing the bark from the small poles that were going to be used to secure the grass and support the roof.  Meanwhile Sipho and the boys were joining the poles on top of the roof. Working as a team, we managed to complete the roof structure in one day without any help from the main builder. But it was a very difficult exercise for the majority of the learners because never in their lives before had they held a hammer, not to mention hitting a nail into wood. It was a very challenging experience.

At 12h30, it was very hot (34 degrees) and we took a break and went for a swim in the Tugela River, 900 meters from Mr Nkomo’s homestead. After swimming, the weather was cooler we went back to start collecting the grass for helped the students by showing them how to carry the grass using one’s head. We continued with the roof, which was finished at 17h30.

Afterwards it was nice to see both visitors and locals involving themselves in craftwork, using the local clay to build interesting objects like flowers, a cell phone!, policeman and many things. After our meal we went to the river to prepare to sleep outside.

On Day 3, we continued building. We started putting the grass on the roof structure and girls were selecting and dividing the grass that we used for thatching. One of the students, his Zulu name is Velaphi, told me that this experience is like a mirror to him that shows how many things he doesn’t know about life. He continued by saying he felt bad that he could not do a simple thing, like making a simple knot.

After our lunch, we went to buy indigenous chickens for our evening meal. Buying these chickens is easy but catching them it not a dinner party. The students spent an hour chasing these chickens but with the help of local kids, the students were eventually successful and were able to come back with two chickens.

Killing these chickens was also a problem because no one wanted to volunteer, I then had to point to the two boys to do the work, and they successfully did it. Later, on the last day during the feedback session with Sheila, both boys mentioned how important the experience had been of killing a chicken that they were going to eat.

At night the local kids were singing traditional songs and the students were pumped up and started singing their songs as well. I had to laugh when it was a battle of the songs, one song after another.

Day 4 was a relaxing day for all of us. Instead of building, we walked to the Mayizekanye high school situated over the river, the visitors had an opportunity to write a physical science paper which was set by the Department of Education. It was the same paper that the local learners were writing for the end of the term and a few of ZT students commented on the high standard. The learners were very happy to have visitors at the school and they asked whether they could play netball together. Because the exams were finished, I asked the Principal of the school to give us an opportunity to play netball with the school the following day and the answer was positive.

Day 5 we drove to Tugela Ferry in the morning to buy netballs for the matches to be played that day. The final score was 8 – 3 to the locals. The visitors were no match for the mighty springbuck of Ngubevu. The long distance they walk to school every day pays off. The fitness of the local girls was amazing. As the coach for the visitors, I decided to add some of the local girls to my team and that is how we managed to get the 3 points!

After the match we went back home to make preparation for the night. Normally when we sleep outside we have a talk reflecting things that happened to us and stories we need to share; this process is called sidlana indlebe (the food for the ears).

The first student to share her story was Nomalanga and her story was as follows: “I wish people could live harmony with nature and animals. I wish humans can learn from animals. Whoever said humans are cleverer than animals made a false statement. That is why we are in this chaos. Humans started destroying the land, so now they are destroying the oceans. They are looking at everything that they might use for 399999988822339making more money. This causes water pollution. Many countries are involved in this ocean mining. I have never heard of a lion killing two animals at the same time even when they are big in numbers but they only kill one at a time. If they are full, they don’t hunt anymore. Humans want to have more and more and, at the end, leave the problem for others to face. People are mad”.

Nonjabulo: “Life is not about money. If money is not available in Europe, people will go crazy. Many people in my neighborhood come to my family to complain about small things: ‘I don’t have an iphone; the washing machine is broken; so life is unfair’. I think people must change their attitudes”.

Nomusa: “I wish people in Europe could have a chance to visit places like these where people are friendly and welcoming.”

Day 6 was very special because we had an invitation to attend uMhlonyane and Umemulo ceremonies. Umemulo is a very important ceremony that most Zulu girls do when they enter into womanhood. It is a ceremony that was strictly awarded to a girl who had respected her body until the age of 21 years. The rituals involve slaughtering a goat and the cow. Traditional Zulu dancing is also very much part of this ceremony.

uMhlonyane is a traditional ceremony done by the Zulu people for girls when the girl reaches puberty and has her first cycle (depending on what age they reach it). The head (normally a father) of the family slaughters a goat for this ceremony.  A week before the ceremony, the girl is kept in a separate room away from other people, where she will stay and only comes out on the day of the ceremony. During the time she is in that room, the older women visit the girl to give advice and guidance on how to behave as a

teenager (itshitshi – Zulu maiden).

Before the day of a ceremony, the girl’s friends (same age) come to stay with her until the next day. All the girls apply ‘white clay’ all over their bodies. In the morning they go to the river to wash their bodies. On their way back to the homestead they sing traditional songs that are relevant for the ceremony. They sing songs like: Khula, khula ngane yakwethu (Grow up, grow up my sister)

After the ceremony we had a taste of traditional Zulu beer (umqombhothi). It is believed that the ancestors will not recognize the ritual that is performed without Umqombhothi; this beer is for the ancestors. It is the way of communicating with the ancestors as they also used to make it when they were alive. It is the way of connecting with them and that is why it is significant to drink it.


The following day, day 7, was also exciting. The boys were not happy that we only gave the girls the opportunity to play netball, so we organized the local team for a soccer match. The visitors lost with 5 goals to 0. It is very disappointing that ever since we started the Zulu Trails we have never been able to have a soccer match victory. Maybe we need to consult a local Sangoma, Mr. Ngwamanda, for some mutito win the game!

Day 8 was our final day in Msinga, we left the area at 10h30. At 12h30, we connected with Sheila at the Brookeside Mall in Pietermaritzburg, where she welcomed us with a platter full of nice sandwiches.

Naturally the students wanted to visit the mall and so at 15h00 we continued with our journey to Sugar Fields Lodge a few kilometers from Tala private game reserve. We spent day 9 at the Tala reserve, where we saw lots of different animals, including rhino (sadly with their horns removed to prevent them from being poached) and giraffe, wildebeest, blesbok, impala….We also had fun teaching each other songs. Sipho and I taught our visitors the Zulu song Shosholoza and they taught us a German song Drei Tage Wach.


At the end of the Zulu Trail, during the feedback, this is what students had to say:

Highlights of the trail

  • Spending time with the local people
  • The chance to use my hands, building the roof at Nkomo’s
  • The cultural ceremony (this was the biggest highlight for every one)
  • Visiting the game park at Tala
  • Sleeping on grass mats (icansi) outside and watching the stars at night, doing night watch
  • Listening to the music. Swimming in the river (I was asked why everyone sings well in Msinga)  Killing and preparing the chicken
  • The driver was good
  • Experiencing another culture
  • Warm welcoming at Nkomo’s house, playing with people in the area
  • Soccer match and netball match were my big highlights
  • Visiting the school was very nice – the singing at the school is professional stuff
  • To be given the possibility to decide what we are going to do
  • I have never tasted such a good food in my life – Ujeqe (Steam bread) was the best
  • The guides Sandile and Sipho were very good in everything
  • Philisiwe Masondo was a mother to us
  • Catching, killing and eating the chickens
  • Swimming in the river
  • The people from the area who are very friendly and open, especially the children
  • Not having my phone
  • The group activities were very good



Personal change

  • I learn that you have to make the best out of every situation and try to be happy
  • I’m going to be open to new ideas and situations
  • Learn to live with less things because it is possible
  • Be more thankful for everything you have
  • You don’t need a lot to live a good life
  • Zulu Trail has taught me to respect other human beings and give them a chance to tell their story so I can learn from them



Lowlights and Suggestions

  • Nothing
  • Being around chickens where I had to be cautious every time (This is Sipho who has a chicken phobia!!)
  • If we could have walked more
  • I don’t have any suggestions – Everything was perfect!


Day 10, we left Sugar Fields lodge at 11:30 and stopped to have a swim at uMdloti beach before accompanying the students to the King Shaka airport. They caught their flight to Cape Town at 17h40.

Mr Nkomo’s house was not completed but I would like to give a big thanks to the students because we were able to build and reach this point.  Almost finished!!

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